Break Down, Lift Up

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Nemith Phum, student of Arts Corps and Massive Monkees’ dance classes; photo by Stefanie Felix

If you visited Folklife Festival this year and are a fan of dance, chances are you were one of the hundreds of people who enjoyed the Massive Break Challenge, Seattle’s largest break dance battle for middle & high school youth. This high-energy competition attracts over 70 b-boys and b-girls from nearly 20 schools around Washington State.  One of those b-boys is a young man named Nemith Phum.

“I have competed in all the battles for the past four years,” says Nemith. “I have had some wins and some losses. But I have always had a blast.”

When asked how he got started in break dancing, Nemith credits his middle school friends. “I was watching and wondering what some of my friends were doing in the playground. It looks like some kind of acrobatics. I called out ‘what are you doing?’ They shouted back ‘it’s break dancing’, and I answered ‘oh really! You guys should teach me a couple of steps.’” Nemith started his first lessons in break dancing that day.

Encouraged by his friends, Nemith went on to enroll in Arts Corps break dance classes taught at his high school by Jerome Aparis, co-founder of the international award-winning Seattle dance crew Massive Monkees. “Jerome taught me how to put all of myself into my dancing and the value of hard work,” says Nemith. “He opened up my mind to thinking beyond just music and dance. He taught me a lot about myself and how to better understand myself as a result of my dancing. I learn more about myself every single time I dance. “

Nemith also credits Jerome’s class with providing him a broader appreciation of music, exposing him to music from different countries and cultures. “You can see how other countries have embraced break dancing and made it their own. The way Japanese dancers interpret hip hop is amazing.” When Nemith visited France, his cousin took him to a French dance crew’s practice studio. “The French break dance to jazz and have their own take on hip hop. I love to involve myself in other cultures and learn their dance styles.”

It is clear that, for Nemith, break dancing is far more than a hobby. “I would not be the person I am now if it had not been for my dancing. It is my great passion and also an outlet. Dance is a place I can go to when something is going on, and I just need to break away. Some days, I just need to dance off the stress. It has helped me stay focused and keep my grades up. It helps me think.”

Nemith recently enrolled in South Seattle Community College, where he will be taking classes in business administration and communications. He also plans to continue developing his dance and staying engaged with Arts Corps.  “If you ask what Arts Corps means to me, I can tell you it changed my life,” says Nemith. “I have made so many friends as a result of my involvement with Arts Corps, not only the dancers but also a huge web of creative artists. It helped get me out of the streets and into a creative, positive place.”

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